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Elephant crossing

Business students take on a Malaysian adventure

Ann Jennings and Anna Whelan ziplining on a short vacation in Thailand during their semester at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

By Meaghan Whelan

When 19 business students spent a semester at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, they came back with a global perspective, cultural understanding and a thirst for more.

The students were part of a pilot project that was a new model for international study within the Faculty of Business Administration. A group of students, mainly from the bachelor of commerce (co-op) program, and Prof. Mike Burns, director of the International Programs Office, spent four months at USM, studying business and Malaysian culture.

Prof. Burns taught classes that were open to the entire university and the students took a full slate of courses in a variety of subjects, including Malay culture.

Co-op student Anna Whelan said studying the Malaysian culture while living in the country was an incredible experience.

“Malaysia is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian, and seeing these cultures interact, learning what they value and how they approach people and situations was amazing,” she said. “At home, we used to hear church bells, but in Malaysia we heard the Islamic call to prayer five times a day and it is really beautiful.”

Ms. Whelan said the classroom environment was different from what she was used to at Memorial, but that one of her Malaysian professors quickly became a favourite.

“A lot of content is implied and there isn’t as much class interaction, so it is different,” she explained. “One of my Malaysian professors, Dr. Anees Janee Ali, was amazing. I learned so much about international business and he used examples from all around the world that were really relevant and useful.”

Outside of the classroom, Ms. Whelan credited the International Programs Office at USM with creating opportunities for the students to interact and get involved with both Malaysian students and their fellow international students. She was part of a group that won first place in a traditional Malay dance competition during an on-campus cultural festival sponsored by the International Programs Office.

“There were students from Finland, Australia, Japan, Turkey, the United States, Iran, Palestine and Sweden studying at USM while we were there, so it was a multicultural experience in a number of ways.”

During a break in the semester, Ms. Whelan and some of her classmates spent three days travelling around Malaysia and learning more about the different states.

Ms. Whelan also visited Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, where she and her companions were even invited into someone’s house and offered a meal.
Beyond the academic experience, Ms. Whelan said the semester at USM opened her eyes to a variety of international experiences, made her comfortable with international travel and inspired her to see more of the world.

“This was really the first step for me. When I graduate I’ll be looking for a job overseas or one that allows me to travel.”

One of the skills she picked up, bartering, has already served her well.

“I thought it wasn’t something that I’d apply back home, but this semester I got a $60 textbook for $35. I’ve become an excellent haggler!”